April 25, 2005


“Who’s they’re?” *

The other day I met the infamous who’s—in a major newspaper, of all places. Who’s doesn’t get around nearly as much as it’s does, but that makes it all the more scary when you do run into him. Who's and it's are close relatives, by the way, as they are both rooted in an inability to understand what the apostrophe is and what it does. I had got quite used to meeting it’s, even in supposedly professionally edited publications. But who’s? I had not seen who’s outside of e-mails and such that I had assumed had been written by particularly illiterate individuals—that is, until our fateful meeting yesterday.

When I think back, it seems I began to meet it’s in the early 1980s. I don’t recall having seen him in the ‘70s at all, or at any time before that. So what phenomenon of the early 1980s paralleled the birth of the new illiteracy, possibly pointing to its origin? I have no ready answer to that question, but that does seem to be the time when a large majority of American voters voted for Reagan. And Thatcher and Clark, both Conservatives, had just been elected in the UK and Canada, respectively. Hmm… And, before I go any further, I want to stress that I am not at all referring to dyslexic or intellectually challenged people. Such people can’t help making mistakes. I am talking about "normal" people who can learn the correct way of writing certain words, but who won’t. All I can say is that, in my experience, illiteracisms such as these words (what else can one call them?) do seem to be associated with a certain kind of mentality. It is the mentality that never tries to acquire a deep and clear understanding of the world around it. Rather, it lives with myths and legends handed down to it from its forebears, never bothering to get a clear understanding of even those myths and legends, let alone to question them.

As a public service, then, and hopeful that my meager endeavour may help usher in a new Age of Enlightenment…LOL…here is a list of some of these illiteracisms, along with corrections thereto:

1/ It’s: This abbreviation has two possible meanings, and those are its only possible meanings. You noticed I just wrote "its only possible meanings"? That is because it would have been wrong to say "it’s only possible meanings". Why? Because, as I said, it’s has two meanings, and two meanings only. It can be an abbreviation for “it is” or for “it has.” It has no other common meanings or usages.

2/ Who’s: Again, who’s can mean one of two things, and only two things: “who is” or “who has.” When you write “Who’s blog is this?” you actually mean to say “Whose blog is this?” Yes, whose, NOT who’s. Remember that.

3/ They’re / their / there (as well as your/you're): Here we run into a veritable forest of illiteracisms. It seems entire populations of English speaking people are unaware that these are three completely different words, as evidenced by the fact that they use them interchangeably on a daily basis (one of them is two words, by the way). I won’t go into the details of what each of them means, as it would probably be a futile effort. If an adult didn’t learn their differing meanings while still in school, it’s too late to begin now. I have to end this post on a pessimistic note. People who don’t know, and won’t find out, the difference between “they’re” and “their” will surely never learn to look beneath the lies that their governments tell them.

* The title of this post refers to the way some people would write "Who's there?"

I have just been randomly going through blogs and I found this particular post quite amusing. Sadly enough, very few people know how to write correctly. It's a common misconception that students are taught the difference between its and it (is/has). In most scenarios, students are expected to know the difference, without being taught.
Yes, it is very sad the depths to which grammar has fallen in the minds of most people. I am constantly shocked and discouraged by the inability to write that pervades our society. Even people who are otherwise very intelligent seem to clam up the moment a comma or a semi-color crosses their path. It's a damn shame.

Excellent blog by the way. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I'm adding your blog to a list of links on my blog. I hope that this is alright. If this isn't okay, please let me know, and I will remove the link immediately.
Thanks for your comments, Pat and Viv. The misuse of it’s has become so prevalent that you see it everywhere these days, even in many printed publications. The latest variation on this theme is the reverse of using it’s instead of its. In other words, some people now write its when they should be writing it’s. The reason is that they imagine it’s means its, and so when they want to write it’s, they write its ! I think this kind of mindlessness is the type of thing that inescapably led, in 2000, to the situation we have today, where a man unable to form a complete sentence, and presumably unable to think a complete thought, is the “President of the World.”
You've made some interesting comments here about certain common misspellings. The only thing I would like to add (just as a small bit of constructive criticism to an otherwise great post) is that it is important not to use sexist language that makes everyone appear to be of one gender. This problem can be avoided by using "she or he" or "he or she" or by making the subject plural and using "their."
It seems to me that the individuals who have the most reason to complain in society are often the less educated. Poor education, and thus poor grammar is a means of subjugating these people.

I understand that this entry was meant as more of a light, almost comical piece, with no real intended political message, so I mean no offense, but here on the south side of Chicago, the victims of the worst of America's domestic atrocities rarely posess perfect grammar. In fact, the language they speak often could barely be considered English, and their concerns can are easily ignored by those in power, and by society in general.

I don't know if this is as true in Canada, but here in the United States, as I am sure you know, pretty much all positions of power are dominated by the "educated". Most government officials and heads of corporations come from a wealthy elite class. They are born rich, they attend exclusive schools like Harvard or Yale, which they are accepted to based entirely on who they and their parents are, rather than what they have achieved. They think they are naturally superior to those who, unlike them, have not been insulated from the harsh realities of life, and thus grow to believe that they know the needs of the underprivilaged better than they themselves do.
i think it is more basic than that. most of the blogs are loaded with words that are chopped like stolen vehicle parts. nothing makes sense. . . ur art nt do tht, arrrrgh! these kids are the future?
am glad i am getting closer to the big man day by day. . .
th ftre is fkked upd. . .
they sed so.
As you guessed, IM, this post was meant as comic relief, though only partly. This post, like everything else in this blog, and almost everything I say in "real life," is about capital, that is, the unjust and oppressive relations of power in society. At this juncture in human history, when capital has unashamedly bared its fangs, and the choice is more clearly than ever between socialism and barbarism, a radically synoptic vision is needed more desperately than ever before. We literally cannot afford to get bogged down in our own preferred issues anymore. Rather, we need to look power squarely in the face, find out what it is, and where it is trying to take us. Only then might we have some hope. What I have suggested in this post is that all segments of capital, whether liberal or conservative, have always worked hand in glove. I wanted to try to counter the idea that conservatives create the problems, and liberals solve them.
I might have spotted some more extraneous apostrophes. Why do you use them in your descriptions of decades ("early 1980's")? If spelled out, that would read nineteen-eighties (no apostrophe). Changing words to numbers should neither make it possessive nor add an implied "is" to the end ("1980 is").

Hoist with your own petard.
Thanks for the correction, Joel. There are two schools of thought on how to make plurals from numbers and acronyms, but the one you pointed out is the prevailing one. In any case, as you probably noticed, I brought up this issue just as an excuse to talk about other things.
I'm with sleepybob in hating the stupid text messaging acronyms you see people typing these days. It's one thing when you're sending a text message on your cell phone and it's a pain in the you know what, but I don't want to read it on your blog.
I love this post! Bad punctuation - especially misused apostrophes - drive me crazy. (Though I recognize that a lot of it is down to poor education, which is no one's fault.)

I wrote a post about it's/its, they're/their/there/ and your/you're, but never posted it. I couldn't make it humorous enough and didn't want to offend readers who are smart but grammatically challenged.

I'm glad you did it!!
I would also like to note that I constantly see misused apostrophes on store signs - not just in blog posts where people might be rushing or careless. (Not that that is an excuse!) But on professional, permanent signs:

Tire's, Shock Plug's


Lunch Buffet - Over 100 Item's

I even see them on TV, on local newscasts or sports shows.

My partner and I are forever pointing them out to each other. It's a losing battle, but it drives me crazy nonetheless.

Or should I say nonethele's?
Thanks for your comments, L-girl. As you say, these problems are often a result of poor education, but I wouldn't say that's no-one's fault. It is the fault of social classes that want to preserve the class divide by keeping the poor ignorant. A lot of the people who make these mistakes are, as you say, "smart." However, that doesn't mean they are enlightened. I believe their linguistic deficiencies parallel deficiencies in other areas, specifically, political consciousness. Their intelligence has been perverted into an instrument against their own interests. They have become a bulwark of the system that oppresses them, rather than the agents for its transformation. Such a transformation requires intellectual tools, including a deep and clear understanding of language, so that the person can make effective use of it, and, possibly more importantly, escape being manipulated by propaganda. Perhaps the fact that, as you have also pointed out, the disease of illiteracy is spreading to official channels, such as newscasts and so on, somehow indicates a new phase.
I'd like to write a few words on behalf of It's. It's is indignant to discover that you have described it in the same sentence as the despicable Who's. While Who's is an unrepentant felon, an illegitimate con artist, the very Eric Rudolph of American parlance, It's has strong ties to its (It's's) community, and it's (It's is) necessary for its (It's's) legitimate function--marrying the elderly It with the venerable Is, and the wise Has. It's regrets its (It's's) addiction to trespassing in the domain of Its, its (It's's) longtime friend, and sometime rival. It's and Its have a respectful working relationship, and it's (it is) not proper to offend both Whose and its (Whose's) friend It's in such a manner.

Isn't refused comment as of this printing.
Hope you don't mind that I copied your post in my "Sampler" blog.
Wow, what a great post! It's funny and informative! I write about words and word usage every day! So many people try to excuse misuse of language by claiming that their typos are simple shorthand. Bah!

It may seem persnickety to bemoan the foibles of people who choose to ignore grammar and rules of language...but once those flaws become common parlance, we begin the slippery slope towards illiteracy and mass confusion!

Thanks for this post!
Thanks for your kind comment, Mr Word. What worries me most is that these people, I think, don't actually choose to ignore grammar. Rather, they are almost unconscious of its existence. They are somnambulists, so to speak, about grammar and everything else that has to do with logic and deep understanding. This characteristic is an element of what leads to the mass confusion that you mentioned.
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